‘I want my own life back’

Father of three, Barcelona fan and lover of French literature, this unassuming figure might just — at a stretch — one day be the leader of a brand new country. Meet our 'Spanish' Face of the Week, the President of Catalonia Artur Mas.

'I want my own life back'
Would the President of Catalonia Artur Mas step out of the limelight if Catalonia were to become an independent nation? Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

So just who is Artur Mas?

The 57-year-old Mas is the controversial president of Catalonia, one of Spain's wealthiest regions with over 7.5 million inhabitants, and with a language and culture that set it apart from the rest of Spain.

From a wealthy Barcelona family, Mas has worked his way up the ranks in Catalan politics, serving on the Barcelona city council for several years before becoming a minister in the Catalonia in 2003.

He then spent seven long years in opposition — a period which saw him become increasingly committed to the idea of independence for Catalonia.

Since 2007, he has headed up the so-called Refoundation of Catalanism movement, with its emphasis on giving Catalonia increased decision-making powers.  

"Catalonia has arrived at the point where it needs the instruments of an independent state like Austria or Holland," said Mas in 2012, in a clear statement of intention.

Why has Mas been in the news lately?

Since leading the centre-right CDC party to power in regional elections in late 2010, the staunchly pro-Europe Mas has talked up the idea of an independent Catalan state.

Along the way, he has divided public opinion. Many see the president as an opportunist who is using the independence debate to bolster both his own political career and the fortunes of his party which has only been able to govern in coalition with Catalonia's nationalist ERC party.

Others, meanwhile, place him at the head of the independence vanguard.  

In late December, Mas stepped up this independence campaign by announcing the region would hold a non-binding referendum on the self-rule issue in late 2014, a move which Spain’s central government in Madrid was quick to dismiss.  

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy didn't hesitate to call the ballot illegal, saying it wouldn't go ahead. 

"This initiative collides head-on with the foundation of the constitution which is the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation," Rajoy said.

He also warned that an independent Catalonia would have to leave the European Union, a fact which Mas conceded some days later, although he said a hypothetical independent Catalan state would immediately apply for reentry.

Is that the end of the story?

Far from it. Mas used his recent New Year’s speech to restate his desire for the poll.

"Please let us vote," said the former student of economics at Barcelona university, who also expressed a hope that Spain wouldn't come to see Catalonia as an adversary.

The region wanted to be "an ally, a good ally" to Spain in the future, he added.

Mas recorded this message shortly before it become public that Spain's Foreign Ministry had sent a 210-page pro-Spanish unity book to all of the country’s overseas embassies and consulates.

On Thursday it also emerged that Mas had recently sent letters to various European leaders, asking them to support the Catalan cause.

Has he received any responses yet?

A spokesperson for the German government, Georg Streiter, said on Thursday that they knew nothing about the letter.

Sources then told Spain’s Huffington Post that they knew of the existence of the letter because of media reports, but that no official response was likely to be forthcoming.

But the Catalan government says it has already received other responses.

And what about Mas the man? Is he a megalomaniac hell-bent on running his own country?

On the contrary, Mas comes across as a rather unassuming character.

Fluent in English and French — he went to Barcelona's Lycée Français and The Little Prince is one of his favourite books — he is a good public speaker, but not someone who appears destined to lead an independence movement.  

The UK's Independent newspaper describes him as a regular churchgoer who is reported to have been going to the same hotel every summer for the last 40 years. When he moved house, he even stayed within the same Barcelona apartment block.

Mas has also hinted he may not stay in politics for much longer. Recently he told Italy's La Repubblica newspaper he would soon leave politics. He hinted that one more term might suffice.

"I'm doing what I'm doing because of a collective project for the future which I've committed myself to. Politics doesn't excite me. I'm tired, but it's necessary."

"I want my life back," Mas told La Repubblica.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain